There’s always a break in the rain

Life is the worst
Listen to me, I’m a philosopher
Love, that’s a trap
Responsibility, that’s a trap
Like a father to a son, I tell you this
Life is full of horror, nobody escapes, nobody, save yourself
Whatever pulls from you
Whatever needs from you
Threatens you
Learn at least this
What you are capable of, let nothing stand in your way

– Al Pacino in “Angels in America”

I have a love/hate relationship with the winter and December. But there is a beauty in the bareness that only animals with great noses are lucky to know; like the whiff of both orange trees that grow in the winter in my neighbors’ yards, and the smell of eucalyptus that wafts up on the wings of crows and ravens chasing away a hawk. If you look up waft, “to cause to move or go lightly by or as if by the impulse of wind or waves,” I think it’s very unlike the dictionary to have such a poet’s definition, and I am pleased.

My backyard, in all its commonness, is a place of ever-changing weather and an attack on the senses. The shapes and dreams from my childhood still live in the clouds – the bunnies, big hands, sweet pink cumulus, and the smells; coldness, wetness, darkness, sadness, and the thoughts the sun-smell brings. I’m reminded of the taste of carrots and vinegar, tomatoes and salt, all on the porch of a sunny day.

I spent time with my dying family this season. My sister, the caregiver, and my mother, having less and less to look forward to. The bitterness of the unthoughtful gift from my brother, and the brief visit that consummated in the long nap during the car ride home while my mate navigated his way with the company of 70s on 7.

Unlike letting mother nature move us and do its thing, we as humans are expected to navigate our human landscapes by how we want to live our lives as individuals. I had the sudden realization that, when there is a break in the rain, you have to seize the opportunity for another kind of life, happiness, and interpretation within the clouds around you.

Once again

“At a certain point in your life, probably when too much of it has gone by, you will open your eyes, and see yourself for who you are, especially for everything that made you so different from all the awful normals. And you will say to yourself, but I am this person, and it that statement, there will be a kind of love.” – Phoebe in Wonderland

Shades of red and purple are vibrant at twilight. A lone dandelion rises up where the unsuccessful hydrangea once was, and a succulent moss grows up around the cheap sprinkler I used maybe once. There’s a lot of this in my backyard; a planter box held together only by the old soil within it, a makeshift wire trellis that nothing climbs up, and an odd little gate that leads to a steep fall onto concrete if you don’t watch your step.

I tied up the grape vines today. The mix I planted to attract hummingbirds and butterflies finally started to bloom beneath the mass of the vine’s tendrils; lovely yellow and magenta flowers among the grass and other weeds. So tiny and delicate you want only to cradle them between your fingers; but inches away without touching the fragile petals. I seek to connect with respect, and nature has its own, unspoken, boundaries. This is a peaceful time for me, until the wind or rain chases me inside again, and to my books.

On lazy days like today, I have tasked myself to make my way through some natural classics: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Loren Eisley’s Desert Solitaire, and the idyll that is anything by Gerald Durrell. Most recently I stumbled upon another author I had not heard of, Edwin Way Teale (1899-1980).

This is what happens when you open your heart and keep your eyes open, I said to myself.

According to one review, Teale expressed “the simple enjoyment of universal nature, with no other end in mind” (Wandering Through Winter), and “on this somber day, when winter’s conquest seems so imminent and so conclusive, I am remembering the calm preparations of the insects around me. Nature, in all her acts, reflects her faith in the future.”

Finally, someone just like me, someone with no other end in mind than to enjoy nature and have faith in the future.

Seagulls

“Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding.” – Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach

Last Friday I had a meeting near the ocean, bright and early. I always think it’s going to take me a while to get there, but it never does, and on this particular morning it was no different. This is a meeting with myself, to talk with the birds and to take it down a notch, so to speak.

Sometimes when I’m down by the sea I buy some bread and I feed it to the seagulls. They all descend at once, some watching and waiting cautiously from the rocks, others bold enough to snatch the bread just near my feet, where the opportunistic pigeons are getting in on the action. I always coo at them with my favorite sweet nothing of the day, rehearsal I’m sure for the day I’m a crazy old woman. A man in the parking lot of the nearby restaurant snaps my picture.

I take a deep breath and intently watch the gulls. I love how their yellow and black eyes contrast beautifully against the feathers on their head. Most, I assume, are California Gulls (Larus Californicus). In my limited research on gulls, however, I’m sure these gulls’ plumage changes, depending on the season, so I could be surrounded by a melting pot. I know I have seen Heermann’s Gulls (Larus Heermanni) on the shores of Monterey.

I remind myself to bring my camera next time, to take some pictures and put some names with some beaks.

Larus Heermanni

Water and the beauty of spring

American Goldfinch, male on left, female on right
American Goldfinch, male on left, female on right

“In an age when man has forgotten his origins and is blind even to his most essential needs for survival, water along with other resources has become the victim of his indifference.” — Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

I greet the spring days with joy and some civility. I suffer from S.A.D., and do not enjoy days when it’s cloudy and rainy. On days like this I sit at my back window and watch the gulls playing in the wind and the lone mourning dove bracing itself against the slanting rain. In my sadness, however, I see the beauty in “weather,” the billowing clouds, the swaying eucalyptus, and the water we so desperately need.

What’s odd is that I don’t wish for water for myself. I wish it for the annual visit of the American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) at my feeder, and the California Towhee (Pipilo crissalis) that waits for the rain to make the worms available. It’s a wonderful thing to see the C.Towhee skirt along the ground and under the jasmine in the back of our yard. I sometimes I imagine I am Mistress Mary as I peek under the plant, hoping for a glimpse of a Towhee or its family.

I never happen upon a bird under the jasmine, but there must be something fascinating under alot of things, if we look a little closer; the bright pink Camellias on the ground, the Lilac tree relegated to its space behind the evergreen, and the field mouse that has made its house somewhere in the planter near the gazebo. Let us not forget these treasures, it is what keeps us young and curious.

Love

Today I was feeling very happy. Recently, a kind, gentle person from Iowa contacted me and told me that she would like to use some posts from my blog to teach her nature writing class. For a while, this filled me with love, and not to mention a longing to visit Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Truth be told, I still feel that love, and probably will for a while.

That is how it is with me, that when someone cherishes me for something I did that was born of passion, I tend to feel love, and loved. It’s something I secretly cling to, and long for more of.

And it got me to thinking about love: who I love, and what love is.

Today I learned that someone I deeply love had to experience death and the possible dissolution of their marriage, all in a span of ten days. I ached. I felt a pain in my heart that was not unlike yearning, but I felt a little more lost, and more unsure. It was like peering into space with the feeling that if you didn’t hold on, you might go into a black hole.

In times like these, I like to turn to animals for a lesson. What can animals teach me about love, and loss.

For some reason, when I think of love, I think of last Halloween, when my Greyhound, Jack, plucked a eastern grey squirrel from the Catalpa tree in our backyard, broke its neck, and proceeded to eat it. I shouted “Jack! No! Leave it!” Not only until I pinched his ear did he drop it. His body shook in a primeval way, and I could see he hurt from not only from me pinching his ear but from my disappointment.

I stood on my porch, in the rain, looking at the unbrushed lower teeth and gentle paws of the dead squirrel on my steps, and all I could do is be present with my feelings, that somehow I was responsible for its death. I was hyper-aware of the temperature, the cloudy sky, and my breath as I wondered how to best deal with Rocky. The odd thing is that I never felt more alive, even in death.

This is how it is to be in love, when you experience life without any filters. It’s also when you can let go of expectations and perfection, and learn to enjoy your backyard, even in the driest of winters.

Robin
Robin

Locking up the earth

When I’m feeling spacious and anxious and weird I like to listen to a song called “De Usuahia a la Quiaca” by Gustavo Santaolalla. It’s a track from a movie called “The Motorcycle Diaries.” When I listen to it I imagine I am Che Guevara riding his bike through the desert, dirty and alone, on the verge of transformation.

I imagine that I am Frida Kahlo, a wild, beautiful girl with many lovers, male and female.

Mostly I imagine that I am free.

At wildlife rescue tonight I was offered a little piece of heaven, of freedom. In a mock aviary in the back of the rescue sits five cliff swallows, juveniles. Tonight they were flying around the aviary, landing on the little rope perches, begging for the mealworms I had for them. But the most amazing thing about them was the sound they made as they flew circles around me. The beating of their wings sounded like the flight of fairies entering your dreams at night (like the sound you make when you sigh and it has to pass through your teeth and lips before it leaves your body – only lighter). I had the feeling I was witnessing something magical. I felt as if they were not of this earth, these dark birds with their intense eyes — and they lifted my spirit into another realm. I felt as if I had entered another world when I entered that aviary, and was blessed by the swallow fairies that inhabited it.

When we care for the animals at the wildlife rescue we are temporarily locking up the essence of the earth while we tend to its wounded citizens. You can hear the essence in the beating of birds’ wings, you can smell it in the breath of a night heron who has just eaten smelt, you can feel it in the oil and dirt that passes from feather to finger.

And you wonder where your essence has gone, your wildness. You think back to the time when you smiled easily and the wind and dirt were your friends. These birds are this essence every day, even locked up in a little aviary.

Tonight I was shift supervisor. I had to make sure that all the birds and mammals got their feedings, got their meds, little bird foot casts, cream on a snake’s back. Dishes washed, lights turned out…alarm set. Now, when someone else has this role I think nothing of it. But when you are given this responsibility and you lock 20 wild animals into a small house at night the weight of the world sits on your shoulders. You are, for a night, a shepherd of the earth and its wounded citizens, and only your heart can guard them as you fall into bed.

Staying out of step

So strange to emerge from my sleep, like a phoenix rising or the tunneling out of a Cicada after a long, luxurious, 17-year supper. What focus, what determination, to emerge and accomplish your goal, only to have to begin over and over again. It’s endless, why fight it? You can’t plan these things.

You see, it doesn’t matter what I write, as long as I write. Getting my thoughts out of my head onto virtual paper is a necessity, a diversion from the day-in/day-out of corporate nonsense.

It’s where we really live, really, in our own heads, not in this world. We are but burrowing insects, waiting for the right time to emerge, to strike, to get what we want. Yet most creative minds want to be out of step with the rest of the world. It pains us to be like everyone else, and there are so many like us. I am speaking in a non-linear fashion, but sometimes that is the only way to speak, in a tongue all your own. I have read much more obtuse prose, believe you me. I guess what I’m trying to say is that keeping out of step is more interesting, greater things happen between the lines.

The Cicadas have been on my mind, as their 17-year slumber party is over as they descend upon the midwest. Gone are the nights of sucking on sweet tree candy and dreaming of the sun. Now is the only chance in their little lives to make love and procreate. I think I would wake up for that too but that’s another story altogether that might blow the endoplasm of most single-celled organisms.

After the female Cicada is lured by the lilting song of the male, they mate, and she deposits her eggs in the slit of a twig. She deposits hundreds of eggs — and soon after she dies, as do the males. When the eggs hatch, the newborns drop to the ground, where they burrow and start another cycle. The Magicicada Cicada goes through a 13- or even a 17-year life cycle. These long cycles are so they can avoid predators such as the cicada killer wasp and the praying mantis. You see, these years are prime numbers, so while a Cicada with a 15-year life cycle could be preyed upon by a predator with a 3- or 5-year life cycle, the prime cycles allow them to stop the predators from falling into step. When did this begin? What year? How did they reset? What a wonderful story of survival of the fittest, what a creative way of staying ahead of the lemmings.

Mr. Charms

Once, in a land not too far away, there was a great prince named Mr. Charms.

For the first 25 years of his life, no one knew that his birth was great and that he was royalty.

After living for a long time in small quarters with very little good food to eat, his caretaker died, and he had to move to another part of the kingdom.

A gentle fairy named Michelle took him under her wing, where he lived for a time, eating well and receiving love and warmth and medicine to cure what ailed him. It was there that two people, Michael and Cordelia, became aware that Mr. Charms was living nearby. They had only heard myths about a prince named Mr. Charms who had magical powers, so when they heard that he was looking for his rightful home they came and got him as soon as they were able.

Mr. Charms moved into his family’s castle, and began to give the gift of joy to Michael and Cordelia. He entertained them with his beautiful singing, his comedy, and his quiet wisdom.

However, though he loved them both, he bonded most closely with Michael, and they became great friends.

Michael would play banjo and Mr. Charms would sing along. They would watch theatre together, and would sometimes spend hours telling each other important secrets. They settled into a nice routine of chats over breakfast, naps together, and the occasional duet.

This great friendship lasted a year, at which time Mr. Charms told Michael that his time was up. You see, Mr. Charms was not just a prince of this kingdom; he was a prince of the world. Mr. Charms explained that he had to move on and share his magic with everyone, not just us.

Mr. Charms turned into a lovely grey cockatiel with a yellow head and rosy cheeks. He and Michael and Cordelia said goodbye, and Mr. Charms flew away over the rainbow bridge.

Mr. Charms
1980-2007

Torpor

Hawk in Road

Every morning I drive to work and I look for birds on this one particular stretch of road. My gazes are fleeting – I only have a few seconds to observe these particular birds. They are waking up with the sun, warming their feathers and nares and tiny talons. They are pigeons, gulls, and blackbirds.

In winter I think alot about the birds at night. Huddled together in their nests, conserving their energy and trying to stay warm. And hummingbirds (mostly male) are in a state of torpor every night. Torpor is a state of regulated hypothermia. A hummingbird, in torpor, slows its heartrate from 1260 bpm to a staggering 150 bpm when it goes to sleep at night. This is so it can conserve its energy to wake up the next day. When a hummingbird rises with the sun, it takes 10 minutes to an hour for it to raise its heartrate back to 1260 bpm and begin its day searching for food. When female hummingbirds are laying eggs and raising hatchlings, they do not go into torpor because they must stay warm to keep their children warm.

Every day that I think of cold and warmth I think about life’s torpor, human torpor. I experience it alot, I try to get unstuck, to warm up, to begin each day anew. And I turn to the birds to find some insight. Sometimes my parrots and I watch the gulls fly overhead, and our hearts lift and long to fly away with them. I imagine what it must be like to wake with a clear view of the mountains and the sun and a pink sky, and to feel the sun on my face and the vibrations of the earth.

Where do you find your energy, your inspiration…what wakes you from your torpor? A slight breeze to lift your wings might be all you need.

May all beings be peaceful
May all beings be happy
May all beings be safe
May all beings awaken to the light of their true nature
May all beings be free

– Metta Prayer

I’ll tell you a little secret

parrot3_1.jpg

Magical creatures are everywhere. You can find them just by looking up. Just think of it – the stars, the moon, the sun, the clouds, the mountains, the birds.

Yesterday my husband Mike and I decided to beat the heat and go up to San Francisco for the day. Turns out it we wouldn’t beat the heat at all, but at least it was only in the 90s.

We had no real plan, only to go up to SF and get near the water. We accomplished that by taking CalTrain up to the last stop, and then we took the N Judah and the F Line to the end of the line. There past the warfs is the marina district where there is a little beach. We watched people enjoying their day – bicycling, swimming, and we even got to see a bit of a Regatta! Funny that the sound of a cannon firing can bring a smile to your face.

Mike and I were hungry, so we wandered over to Pizz’a Chicago, only to find it wasn’t there anymore. I suggested we walk over to North Beach and eat at a cafe over there, which is a hike up quite a few steep streets, from the marina in to the Russian Hill area of SF. Lovely houses and streets in this area. Little alleyways, stolen glances of someone’s personal zen (there sits a Buddha in the garden!), a few small steep stairs that lead to a basement or otherwise, and a leaning house never fixed after the last quake.

After some significant hiking up some unforgiving hills, we found ourselves in the stranges of places, the bottom of Lombard Street. For those of you who might not know SF this is the street that is supposedly the most crooked street in SF. It’s lined with beautiful landscaping and people that are trying to sell their houses on both sides. 🙂 And it’s full of tourists doing what? Watching people drive down Lombard Street. It’s really one of those WTF? moments, though it is a neat-looking street.

But herein lies the secret. Those silly tourists know nothing about good vacation deals.

Next time you are at the bottom of Lombard Street looking up at that street turn around and head down Lombard Street toward North Beach. Walk about a half block until you see a tree with pods on it and look up.

There, in the tree, you might see about five cherry-headed and green-cheeked conures, having their brunch and talking about their day. It might sound like “honk” and “you don’t say?” and “caliente!” (which is conure-speak for it’s bloody hot today).

So when you’re outside tomorrow, remember to look up – you’ll never know what you’ll see.

The information age and pelicans

Brown Pelican

Strange world we live in. Today I read a blog on http://www.sfgate.com about how parents take their kids to see zookeepers feed dead bunnies to tigers at the San Francisco zoo. I wonder what the fascination is – are we so removed from Mother Earth that we can only embrace nature when it’s a form of entertainment? What happened to communing with nature? I, for one, did not embrace the entrance of the Information Age, though I have used some of the advancements from it as tools to further my personal growth. I do not like the Information Age. The wealth of knowledge and opinions that live on the Internet is like having a thousand books at your disposal that you don’t want to read. To me, it’s not exhilarating, it’s overwhelming.Yet, everyday people go online looking for something outside of themselves to make them happy.

One day I went on a hike with my friend Brian to Muir Woods. After lunch we went to Rodeo Beach, someplace I had never been before. It was a gorgeous day, and before we found a spot on the sand we were treated to the site of a Great Blue Heron waltzing its way down the road behind us and in to the marsh.

Then, we enjoyed the simple act of sitting and watching the ocean, occasionally looking up to watch dozens of pelicans enjoying their freedom. To watch such magnificent creatures makes your heart soar…and sore.